Tuesday, November 25, 2014

More Than Just A Teacher

The issue of puberty and sex education is a contentious one in the Muslim community. For the last several generations (at the very least), Muslim cultures have made sex a taboo subject and it is rare to find, even today, Muslim parents who discuss these issues openly, honestly, and positively with their children.

Unfortunately, this has created a toxic and dangerous environment for Muslim youth - one where discussing even the basic facts of life is not just uncomfortable, but nearly impossible to do with one's parents or other Muslim elders. As a result, we find youth who get their sex ed from unsavoury sources instead... kids at school, social media, and pop culture; all of which put forth unhealthy attitudes regarding sexuality - in fact, most of the beliefs and attitudes taught are in direct contradiction to Islam.

Yet how can we blame the youth for seeking out this (mis)information, when we - the adults - are the ones at fault? How can we blame kids for not knowing and understanding the basic rulings of puberty, of tahaarah, of sexuality, when we're the ones who have failed to teach them from the beginning?

The Sunnah of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and his Companions was very different when it came to teaching the youth – and the adults – around them about puberty, sexuality, and related issues.
Previously, I have written about the story of Umayyah bint Qays, who got her first period while accompanying RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) on a journey, and how he dealt with that situation.

There is another narration that deals with the flip side – a young man who had just reached puberty, going to a woman, and asking about a relevant ruling.

'Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Aswad narrates:

"My father used to send me to A'ishah and (as a child) I used to go to her (i.e. beyond the curtain). When I became adult (i.e. reached puberty; became baaligh), I came to her and called to her from behind the curtain: "O Umm al-Mu'mineen, when does the bath become compulsory?"
She said: "So, you have done it, O Luka'! And (in answer to the question), when the private parts conjoin."

(Al-Dhahabi in Siyar A'lam an-Nubala)

This narration demonstrates a very unique relationship – that of a young boy and an unrelated (non-Mahram) woman. Although ‘Abd al-Rahman first spent time with A’ishah when he was a pre-pubescent boy, he didn’t cut off his relationship with her as soon as he reached puberty… nor was he shy or embarrassed to approach her immediately.
In turn, from A’ishah’s response, it is evident that she was fond of him, and that their relationship was close enough that she teased him gently about becoming a man according to the Shari’ah. SubhanAllah!

How many Muslim youth – boys and girls alike – feel comfortable enough to approach an elder of the same gender, let alone of the opposite sex? How many of them feel that they won’t be scolded or treated harshly, but rather showered with affection and treated with kindness? The importance of ‘safe spaces,’ of individuals whom youth can trust regardless of whether they’re family or not, cannot be overstated.

One would expect that A’ishah (radhiAllahu ‘anha), the Mother of Believers, the ultimate scholar of her time, would be far too busy with more important matters than to teach young children, let alone develop a safe, trusting relationship with them. Instead, she devoted her time and effort to creating this type of relationship not just with young girls, but young boys such as ‘Abd ar-Rahman ibn al-Aswad.
Building and maintaining such a relationship isn’t a one-off thing; it requires long-term investment and true, sincere interest in the life of young children as they grow up and go through numerous challenges and growing pains. It requires being there for them through thick and thin, proving to them that we care about them, and will be there in a supportive manner through even the most awkward of stages.

Sadly, many Muslim adults feel uncomfortable to build that kind of relationship with youth who aren’t their own children, let alone discuss sensitive issues like sexual education. But then – how can we ever expect them to trust us and learn about those very important matters from an Islamic perspective? We need to be more than just teachers who provide sterile facts and dire warnings; we need to be sources of safety, security, and reassurance.

It is time for us to recreate an Islamic environment for our youth: one where talking about puberty and sex isn’t a shameful thing; one wherein a young girl can get her period for the first time around a non-Mahram male, and feel safe with him; and a young boy can admit to a non-Mahram woman that he has reached puberty, and feel comfortable doing so.

When we’re finally able to talk to our youth about puberty, sex, and all that it entails, in a manner that is appropriate and comfortable, we will finally be able to raise a generation of Muslims who understand both the beauty and responsibilities of physical maturity – a generation of Muslims who will, in turn, be ready to step up and be heroes and heroines in their own right.

Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a young woman who finds constant inspiration in the lives of the Sahabiyaat and other great women in Islamic history. She hopes that every Muslimah is able to identify with the struggles of these inspirational women and follow in their footsteps to become a part of a new generation of powerful Muslim women. She blogs at http://www.thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com


Aussie said...

It would be wonderful if you would post some basic ideas/guidelines around how we can encourage the healthy environment you speak of!

I love reading this blog, jazakAllah khayr!

AnonyMouse said...

I'm currently doing a series of lectures at my local masjid discussing precisely this topic in detail. InshaAllah I hope to prepare it all as a manuscript for a book as well.